Wadsworth's Letters Home for oboe and electronics


performed at Staunton Music Festival

August 12, 2018

Blackfriars Playhouse, Staunton, VA


Roger Roe, oboe

Zachary Wadsworth, electronics


video by Stewart Searle





About the Music

This performance presents the world premiere of Letters Home by Zachary Wadsworth using texts by American poet Alan Seeger.  Seeger, the brother of musicologist Charles Seeger and uncle of folk singer Pete Seeger, died fighting for the French in World War I before his country even joined the war.  Driven by a love of Paris to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, Seeger served from August 1914 until his death from machine gun fire on the Fourth of July, 1916.  Wadsworth’s piece provides glimpses of Seeger’s wartime experiences, combining excerpts from his letters home with music played by an oboist and on a prerecorded track.  Wadsworth notes:


Wartime letters were necessarily vague.  To make it past censors, they often omitted or obscured meaningful information about troop movements and locations.  They were also intended to soothe: Seeger regularly reassured his mother that he was safe, and that even if he were to die, it would be a valorous death. But sometimes his brave façade cracked, particularly after he witnessed the brutal death of a friend.  Seeger was a Romantic in his poetry and in his outlook on war.  But where he was looking for chivalry, honor, and valor, he was met with the arbitrary brutality of mechanized violence.  This piece explores the tragedy of a promising, deeply emotional life subjected to (and ended by) such an impersonal process as war.




An active chamber musician and recitalist, Roger Roe has played oboe and English horn with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra since 1995 and has served on the faculty or Indiana University since 2001. He has appeared with orchestras as soloist on oboe, oboe d’amore and English horn, as well as narrator for children’s concerts. His recording of trios for oboe, viola and piano, Wordless Verses, was released on the Naxos label in 2016. Roger has premiered or commissioned a number of new works for English horn and is interested in theatricality and improvisation in music, as well as the intersection of music and spirituality, enjoying recent collaborations with ministers, rabbis, dancers, actors, singers, poets and others on various liturgical and scholarly projects.



Zachary Wadsworth is a composer of “fresh, deeply felt and strikingly original” music (Washington Post), with regular performances and premieres around the world. Previously he has held a residency at the Metropolitan Opera, and his music has been performed at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II. Other honors include awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, ASCAP, and the American Composers Forum. Wadsworth’s music is published by Novello and Schirmer, and his work has been heard on NPR and the BBC. Wadsworth earned degrees from Eastman, Yale, and Cornell, and he is currently an Assistant Professor of Music at Williams College in Massachusetts.





Related Content


PERSPECTIVE: Inside the Composer's Studio: Zachary Wadsworth 

Zachary Wadsworth first appeared at Staunton Music Festival as an "Emerging Composer" in 2011.  Since then he has written over a dozen commissioned works for the festival and has appeared as pianist and tenor each season.  Wadsworth brings originality and true poetry to all that he creates.



VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's The Bad Child's Book of Beasts (premiere)

Written for and dedicated to contralto Sara Couden, these four quixotic songs were premiered in 2014 by Couden and Wadsworth. The texts by Hilaire Belloc become a springboard for Wadsworth's delightful musical whimsy.




POSTCARD: Zachary Wadsworth at Home in New York

While teaching at Williams College in western Massachusetts, Zachary Wadsworth sends a short postcard from his home in Troy, NY. A familiar face at SMF concerts since his debut in 2011, Zach talks about his rewarding experiences teaching and living near Williams College.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's Four Laws for Two Percussionists (premiere)

“What are the laws that govern music?” With this question, composer-in-residence Zachary Wadsworth began the process that led to Four Laws for Two Percussionists, given its world premiere performance in this 2015 video.  Performed by I-Jen Fang and Brian Smith.  




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's The Doctor (premiere)

Inspired by the theatrical setting of Blackfriars Playhouse, Wadsworth composed The Doctor for two principal voices and instrumental trio. A modern-day medical farce, The Doctor was an audience favorite at its premiere captured in this video.




VIDEO PERFORMANCE: Wadsworth's arrangement of "If I Only Had a Brain" by Harold Arlen

One of the most successful aspects of Zach's style is his ability to refresh well-known material for new audiences, a feature that comes to the fore in his many song arrangements. For a Hollywood-themed program in 2017 he created a lovely version of Arlen's classic from The Wizard of Oz.